A Bullet In the Ballet (1937) by Caryl Brahms and S. J. Simon

Today’s read is another title mentioned by Martin Edward in The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (2017), as will my next read for that matter. Again thankfully this is another writing duo who are easy to get a hold of, as Hogarth Press reprinted their work in the 1980s. The story has a really great opening, giving a good flavour of what to expect from this book in terms of its style:

‘Since it is probable that any book flying a bullet in its title is going to produce a corpse sooner or later – here it is. Dressed somewhat extravagantly in trousers of red and yellow check. Its white jumper is scalloped with scarlet jade. It wears a bouffon wig, a Russian clown’s hat and undertaker’s gloves. It is bending over the top of a booth, its arms swinging limply over the side. There is a neat little bullet hole in the centre of its forehead. It died magnificently in the presence of two thousand people…’

Yes murder occurs on the first page, with Anton Palook being shot whilst playing Petroushka in Vladimir Stroganoff’s ballet troupe and in a way the irony of the critics finding the real death unconvincing reminded me of the tone Alan Melville utilises in his mystery novel, Quick Curtain (1936). DI Adam Quill is called into investigate and he is decidedly overwhelmed by the intense, myopic and maddening world of ballet, which unsurprisingly is full of large personalities. Many reasons are brought forward for Palook’s death, which Quill works his way through. But a dramatic event prior to the inquest has him reconsidering his ideas…

Overall Thoughts

In short I would say this is a story which has a strong first half that unfortunately is not fully maintained in the second. The opening style and setup, as mentioned above, works really well. The satiric portrayal of the ballet world is effective, though some of its humour is a bit ham fisted and not wholly palpable to the modern day reader. However I did enjoy its understated dialogue between the narrator and the reader and its depiction of crime newspaper reports. This is definitely a story which does not take itself too seriously, which firstly comes through in its characters, who are lightly handled and none are free from the narrative’s barbed tongue. Yet I think this lack of seriousness in itself does effect the pace of the story, allowing Quill to meander too long in the almost dense ballet milieu at times. It also means the denouement concludes in a weaker fashion. So reading back this last paragraph it does seem I have been fairly critical. Nevertheless I would like to say that although this is an imperfect first effort, there is enough good stuff in there to make me try another story by this writing pair, after all Quill does make for a good detecting protagonist and I admired the unconventionality of the prose. Like yesterday’s review, this is another intriguing story which is quite quirky and one I feel theatre/ballet lovers will appreciate and value a lot.

Rating: 3.75/5

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item (Silver Card): Performer


  1. This is a novel I’ve read a couple of times; it was only when I was about halfway through the second read that I remembered I hadn’t much enjoyed it the first time, either.

    It’s driving me mad that you have the title wrong in your heading. 🙂


  2. S.J. “Skid” Simon was perhaps better known as a bridge champion and a writer of bridge textbooks — his “Why You Lose At Bridge” (1945) is a classic of the genre and is still sporadically in print today. I suspect that Skid was responsible for the wilder, more phantasmagorical and comedic elements of the writing and Caryl Brahms provided the ballet expertise.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.